A Closer Look at The Rarity Around Us
I’ve had a notion for some time now that we fail to appreciate the uniqueness of our backyard. We learn about the Roman Empire or World Wars I and II, and our existence seems mundane. We visit natural history museums, and gawk at dinosaur bones or the skulls of saber-toothed tigers. Yet, for some reason, the hummingbirds in our yards, or the occasional sighting of a deer or a fox, seem insignificant.
This year, I’d like to acquaint you with parts of our county you may have overlooked, such as tiny fish found nowhere else in the world, the largest moonshiner in our state’s history and the Georgia Gold Belt.
The place you call home is as historic, significant, unique and meaningful as the Rock of Gibraltar or the Scottish glens. It contains creatures as unique as the marsupials of Australia or the penguins of Antarctica, and it has a history as rich and as long as Mesopotamia or China, although not as well documented.
Cherokee County was named for the people our European and African ancestors displaced in the 1830s, when the first U.S. gold rush drove them to take the Cherokees’ land and push them west of the Mississippi River. And, yet, the river that runs through our county, the Etowah, is derived from a word used by the Muskogee Creek (the people the Cherokee drove out of the area), meaning town. These people hardly were the first to be here. A trip to the Etowah Indian Mounds in Bartow County will introduce you to a Mississippian culture that dominated the region from 1,000 to 1,500 A.D., establishing fish weirs and agricultural fields that allowed for cities, villages and towns — encircled in fortifications, with populations in the hundreds or thousands — to flourish.
The uniqueness of this place is not limited to the past. It is with us today, if we have the desire to see it and the wisdom to appreciate it. Did you know that there are two species of darters, tiny fish no longer than your index finger, only found in Cherokee and the surrounding counties? Notohonatus etowahae (the Etowah darter) and Etheostoma scotti (the Cherokee darter) are each around 2.5 inches long, live 3 to 4 years, and inhabit the small, clear freshwater creeks that feed the Etowah River and Allatoona Lake. They’re endangered by mankind, whether it’s the building of dams flooding what was a creek, or the building of subdivisions, resulting in silt from runoff polluting their streams. But, they are there and, when well managed, they thrive.
Walk the trails behind Barnett Park, running through the BridgeMill community in Canton, and you’ll see these little wonders anywhere along Downing Creek where a suitable riffle (a rocky or shallow part of a stream or river with rough water) allows for spawning from mid-March to June. Breeding males develop so much color that you easily could mistake males and females for different species.
Just outside your door is a world like no other. The Georgia Department of Conservation has more information on the Cherokee and Etowah darters, including information on preserving the species.
Did you know our county seat once was set afire by Union soldiers? Did you know that the first western-style blue jeans in Japan actually were made here and sold in Japan under the trade name Canton Denim? Did you know that the only man ever to serve four terms as governor of Georgia made his home in Canton?
Let’s wander through Cherokee County and uncover the wonders it is hiding in plain sight. Come hit the trail with me!
– The Wanderer has been a resident of Cherokee County for nearly 20 years, and constantly is learning about his community on daily walks, which totaled a little more than 1,800 miles in 2021. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.